I had the chance to catch up with Jim Spohrer, IBM Innovation Champion & Director of IBM Upward (one of their University connections). EMC hosted as part of their Grassroots Innovation Program. Jim shared IBM's work on:
The Future of Innovation: Convergence & City-University Nodes
A key feature of the talk was the importance of universities to regional development and the value of getting "winner take all" approaches in balance with "improve the weakest link" strategies -- as we move towards a smarter planet.
What is a smarter planet? Instrumented, interconnected, intelligent... across workforce, products, supply chain, IT networks, transportation, communications, buildings.
Jim's presentation and the vibrant discussion that followed argued that universities are important, but they have to be reinvented. They need to transfer knowledge, create knowledge, apply knowledge to co-create knowledge - but not on their own.
University-Based Entrepreneurial Ecosystems
Does it have to be startups? Seems to be so. Startups are cheaper and easier to do. Jim says even the companies that used to be big buyers of IP would now rather have the university grow the company and then do an acquisition.
As is generally the case, you can't change just one thing. From the discussion it became clear that many of us are frustrated with the current university model. I think we were in agreement as to the importance of the transfer (teaching), creation (research), application and co-creation roles, but at least for my part, application and co-creation are not part of my formal job. Many universities seem to split the roles and when I'm doing application - which I love to do - it's largely on my own time (our great executive development program is an exception, but it's focus is still teaching). While we do talk about action-based learning, students working in the field alongside faculty, it's rare and doesn't always fit the expectations of what the students think they have come to us to do.
I love that IBM is raising these issues in such a public way. Wondering how I could be involved. How could you be involved? How could we create our own city-university nodes?